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Japan PM rules out 2006 deal on US base

Japanese islanders stage mass rally against US base
Yomitan, Japan (AFP) April 25, 2010 - Nearly 100,000 protesters attended a rally on Okinawa Sunday to demonstrate against a US air base in a row that is dominating Japan's national politics and souring its ties with Washington. Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima, the speaker of the Okinawa assembly and most of the mayors of the Okinawa prefecture's 41 towns joined the huge protest near Kadena Air Base, the Asia-Pacific region's largest US military facility. Under a blazing sun at an athletics ground on the subtropical island, protesters applauded and whistled as speakers addressed them from a podium. Demonstrators held yellow banners with messages protesting against the US military presence, including: "No Base!" and "US bases leave Okinawa!"

The row centres on US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which under a 2006 pact with Washington was to be moved from the crowded city of Ginowan to the quieter coastal Henoko area of Okinawa. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, whose party won September's general election by a landslide, has said he will review the 2006 deal and move Futenma off Okinawa island. But a search for alternative locations has provoked more local protests. "We want Prime Minister Hatoyama to keep to his pledge, especially on the (relocation) of the Futenma air base," Nakaima said to loud applause at Sunday's rally. "Okinawa has suffered the overwhelmingly heavy burden of US bases since the end of the war" in 1945, he said. "Today, there are few traces of the war in Okinawa. But US bases still remain in front of us. This is so unfair."

Many of the islanders resent the heavy US military presence on Okinawa, a legacy of Japan's defeat in World War II, and complain of noise, pollution and friction with US soldiers. The issue of relocating US bases threatens Hatoyama's political future, with the prime minister caught between Washington and his left-leaning political allies in the dispute. "Prime Minister Hatoyama has raised strong hopes among Okinawans," said Zenshin Takamine, the Okinawa assembly's speaker, demanding that Hatoyama to keep his promise. "Okinawans cannot bear the burden of US bases anymore," he said. "With the governor's participation in this rally, Okinawa's voice is united. We say 'no' to Futenma base!"

Hatoyama has set himself a deadline of late May to resolve the issue but, since he came to power in September, the United States has not dropped its insistence that Tokyo to stick to the original relocation plan. On Friday, under questioning from a conservative lawmaker, Hatoyama staked his job on finding a solution by the time his deadline expires. The premier's right hand man, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, told Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) that he "sincerely" accepted opinions of Okinawa residents. "We sincerely accept (opinions at) the gathering," Hirano told the national network. "By hearing voices of the island residents, we will work hard to draft a good plan of the government." Ahead of crucial upper house elections due in July, Hatoyama has seen his approval ratings dive as criticism of his dithering on the issue has grown.

The United States established the Futenma base in 1945 after it occupied Okinawa following some of World War II's bloodiest battles. It did not return Okinawa to Japan until 1972 and still operates more than 30 military facilities on the island, strategically located near China, Taiwan and the Korean peninsula. Under the 2006 agreement, Futenma facilities will be moved to reclaimed land around Camp Schwab in Henoko and about 8,000 Marines will move to the US territory of Guam. More than 70 percent of US military facilities in Japan -- along with more than half of the 47,000 US troops stationed there -- are located in Okinawa.
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) April 25, 2010
Japan's premier ruled out a plan for a new US airbase on Okinawa island Saturday, on the eve of a mass rally against the planned facility, in a row that has soured ties with Washington for months.

The centre-left Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama last year launched a review of a 2006 pact to move an unpopular US base from a crowded city area of the southern island to a quieter coastal area, where locals also oppose it.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that Tokyo had agreed to broadly stick with the original plan, in an online report published a day before 100,000 people on Okinawa were expected to protest against the US military presence.

Hatoyama, whose approval ratings have dived into the 20-percent range amid the long-festering row, denied the report and said he rejected the plan to build the replacement US airbase in Okinawa's coastal area of Henoko.

"It must never happen that we accept the existing plan," Hatoyama told reporters in televised comments, effectively scrapping the agreement to move the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma there in coming years.

Building the new base -- with runways that would destroy a fragile marine habitat -- would be "blasphemy against the nature", Hatoyama said, according to the Jiji Press news agency.

The comments were the latest twist in an issue that started when Hatoyama's government took power in September, ending more than half a century of conservative rule and vowing "more equal" relations with Washington.

Hatoyama and his left-leaning allies pledged to ease the burden of the people of Okinawa, who have since World War II hosted a heavy US military presence and often complained of noise and frictions with American soldiers.

However, a search for an alternative site in Japan has yielded no viable options, as residents at the reported locations have also protested, while the Obama administration has insisted Tokyo honour the original agreement.

The premier, under questioning from a conservative lawmaker, on Friday staked his job on resolving the row by a self-declared end-of-May deadline.

Then the Washington Post reported Saturday that Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada had broadly accepted the 2006 pact in talks with US Ambassador John Roos at the US embassy in Tokyo on Friday, quoting unnamed sources.

The report also said President Barack Obama has bluntly told Hatoyama in a brief informal meeting in Washington this month that the two countries were "running out of time" and asked him whether he could be trusted.

The report that Tokyo had broadly agreed to implement the 2006 plan was also denied by Okada, who said on Saturday that "it's regrettable that such a report was published ahead of an important rally."

Up to 100,000 demonstrators, including Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima and more than 30 town mayors, were expected at the event in Yomitan near Kadena Air Base, the largest US military facility in the Asia Pacific region.

On Saturday dozens protested against the US base plan in Tokyo.

"We are carrying out the protest here in Tokyo today to give momentum to Okinawa for tomorrow," Ryota Sono, an organiser, said as 70 demonstrators marched through the capital's entertainment district of Shinjuku.

"It's really time to stand up and tell the United States to pull all US bases from Okinawa," the 28-year-old said.

earlier related report
Japan PM stakes his job on resolving US base row
Tokyo (AFP) April 23, 2010 - Japan's centre-left Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Friday staked his political future on resolving a simmering row over relocating a US airbase by a self imposed end-of-May deadline.

Hatoyama has already seen his personal approval ratings sink over the complex and highly emotive issue that has also strained relations with key ally Washington.

His government has promised to find a new location for the unpopular US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, now located on Okinawa island, but has struggled to find another place in Japan that wants to host the base.

"It is a matter of course for a prime minister ... to stake his job on every policy," the premier told parliament when asked whether he would step down if he fails on the issue.

"And it is fine with me if you assume that this of course includes the issue about a new location for Futenma."

The premier came to power in September after a landslide election win and launched a review of a 2006 pact that would have moved Futenma from a crowded urban area of Okinawa to a remote coastal part of the island.

Most people on Okinawa want the base moved off the island after complaining for decades about the burden of hosting more than 30 US military facilities, a legacy of Japan's World War II defeat to the United States.

Washington has repeatedly urged Tokyo to stick with the original 2006 deal, saying it is the best way to ease the burden for Okinawa while maintaining the defence of Japan and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

While the row has festered for months, during which the premier and his ministers have made sometimes contradictory comments on the issue, approval ratings for the Hatoyama cabinet have fallen into the 20 percent range.

The government's latest plan, reported in media but never officially confirmed, to transfer part of the base to Tokunoshima island, 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Okinawa, was met by a mass protests there last Sunday.

The rally drew more than half of the island's 27,000 people, and three town mayors on the island have refused to meet with Hatoyama's right-hand man, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, to discuss the issue.

Washington also opposes relocating the military facility to Tokunoshima, US assistant secretary of state Kurt Campbell was quoted as saying in Friday's evening edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Another anti-base demonstration planned for Sunday on Okinawa is expected to draw up to 100,000 people including the governor and more than 30 mayors.

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